I’ve said it many times; I’m a guy who can’t get enough man vs. nature flicks, especially man vs. toothy, deadly, giant beasts of nature, like sharks, snakes, jungle cats – heck, give me a rabid possum with switchblade, and I’m a happy fella. So, with that in mind, realize that, if a man vs. nature film is even remotely competent in its production, odds are I’m going to like it, and that goes for the very competent Black Water.
Grace (Diana Glen), her boyfriend Adam, (Andrew Rodoreda) , and her younger sister Lee (Maeve Dermody) head on a post-Christmas holiday in Australia. After doing touristy things like visiting a crocodile farm and hitting the bar scene, Adam suggests a fishing trip down a remote river. Grace (who’s recently discovered she is pregnant, but has yet to tell Adam) isn’t thrilled with the idea, but wants her boyfriend to have a good vacation, reluctantly agrees, and Lee, as the third wheel on this trip, has no choice but to tag along. The trio hires a guide to take them to the prime fishing spots – a flooded wooded area with nary a meter’s worth of dry land. Lee notices the guide carrying a gun, and, when she confronts him, he informs her it’s only for the off-chance they encounter a “salty” (apparently Aussie for saltwater crocodile). No sooner do the words come out of his mouth than the boat is capsized by one of the huge reptiles, the guide is devoured, and our trio of travelers finds themselves trapped in a tree to avoid the snapping jaws below.
Black Water is essentially “Open Water” down under, with a rather large crocodile standing in for the sharks. Much like that film, Black Water’s tension is created by what you don’t see, as the river that surrounds our heroes is flooded with muddy water that could be hiding just about anything. Also like Open Water, this film is tremendously downbeat, occasionally slow moving, and filled with moments in which the viewer’s inner “survivor” will cry out in fury at some of the foolish things those onscreen do. Still, as a pure thriller, Black Water works wonderfully (despite a bizarrely happy opening credits sequence), and the fact that directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich went for grim realism rather than resort to monster movie tactics earns the film bonus points. The special effects are quite effective, with the footage of the mechanical croc merging seamlessly with footage of the real thing. While the gore, here, is on the light side, Traucki and Nerlich seem content to work on our nerves rather than our stomachs. Still, it would have been nicer to learn a bit more about Grace and her cohorts if only so we could feel a little more than scared for them, but I suppose there’s only so much room for character development when you’re shrieking hysterically in a tree.
The DVD from Sony features a director commentary track, a handful of deleted scenes, a short making-of featurette, and trailers for other Sony releases.
While Black Water is a bit thin on plot and characterization, the primal thrills and sense of utter hopelessness makes for an effectively dark and oftentimes harrowing viewing experience that will resonate with you long after it’s over.